I’ve always had a special affection for David Lean’s Dr Zhivago and even more of a soft spot for Maurice Jarre’s Lara’s Theme. The heroine is my name sake after all and what an ideal to live up to! However, it was only on my most recent viewing of the 1965 epic, that I realised the importance and true meaning behind the fair-haired and lusty Lara’s purpose and her song. Funnily enough there doesn’t exist an actual ‘Lara’s theme’ on the OST and I understand why. According to wikipedia it has something to do with the fact that all of Jarre’s other ideas and motifs were rejected by Lean, but I have a feeling it’s because the now iconic theme, came to mean so much more to the director.
I’ve not read the book [yet] but I have read some Russian literature and it was Lean’s interpretation of Pasternak’s book that helped me to consolidate some of the themes from the story-telling of both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, who weren’t peers, but were part of the Russian literary tradition. The themes I’m talking about are the taboo nature of hope and beauty in the Russian collectiveness. Across the century during which these men wrote, hope, beauty and desire were dangerous emotions when it came to the distinctive Russian tendency towards the more virtuous qualities of self-denial and austerity. In Russian life it was morally and socially correct to suffer and to be seen to suffer. Dostoyevsky said plainly that “the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything”. Christ suffered quietly and so we must strive to do the same. The term ‘Russian soul’ became a literary tool to describe the struggle and desire for a national identity and it’s no wonder that the suffering of the common man came to embody that very thing; considering the anguish and torment of the working and slave classes during Russia’s harrowed and bloody history.
As I settled in to watch Dr Zhivago a few weeks ago, I started wondering what was so great about her? Isn’t she just the typical Hollywood cinematic ideal, providing beauty and not much else? What else did she offer but a pretty face and an eagerness to please? It was Jarre’s score that gave me the clue as to what Lara’s true allure was and to understanding the story at large. The theme that I thought belonged to her starts playing long before she even appears and it plays when she’s not involved in the slightest. It plays when Yury looks out of the window on the train ride to Varykino and when he continues to see beauty despite the ugliness of life around him. ‘Lara’s Theme’ actually plays all throughout the film and never was intended as the theme for this one character. This motif is, in fact, the musical symbol of the true heart of the film which is not about love and romance, it’s about hope and desire, beauty and conflict. These themes are not only applicable to Yury and Lara, but they also resonate with the whole of society and most importantly the author. Jarre’s theme and Lara’s character symbolise those precious and most redeeming human qualities that were most despised during that era of Russia’s history.
When Yury indulges in his flights of fancy, it’s the music that gently reminds us that the beauty of his inner life is sacred and the only thing that gives him hope. The insistence of that singular musical motif throughout the film helps the audience, whether consciously or not, to connect the bigger ideas and themes of the story. How wonderful that music can say the things we can’t sometimes. In Dr Zhivago this delicate and heartbreaking melody reminds us that desire, hope and beauty, for the longest time in Russia were considered profane in the face of Christ’s suffering and then wasteful and indulgent when compared to the needs of the greater good; but are perceived by the storyteller as being the only things that truly matter in life.
― Doctor Zhivago